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Federal agency raises issue of whether college athletes have federal employment rights

Federal agency raises issue of whether college athletes have federal employment rights

When it comes to professional sports, everybody knows that athletes make a lot of money and have all the rights afforded to employees. Professional athletes have employment rights just like any other employee under state law, though professional athletes always governed as well by the terms of the contracts they are under.

With college sports, the question of employment rights is a little more precarious. The reality is that up until recently, there wasn’t much of a push to afford college athletes employment and labor rights under federal law. A memorandum from the general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board released earlier this week, though, indicates that this could change in the future. 

The National Labor Relations Board is the federal agency charged with protecting employees’ rights to organize and form unions for collective bargaining. The memorandum represents a change from a previous decision in which the National Labor Relations Board denied the right of Northwestern college football players to unionize and engage in collective bargaining.

According to the general counsel’s memorandum, football players at elite private universities should be considered employees and should have the right to request better working conditions and compensation.

The memorandum, to be clear, is only the general counsel’s opinion. It doesn’t translate into any changes for college athletes at this time, but it could in the future influence how the National Labor Relations Board looks at future cases. This depends on the decisions made by President Trump as well.

In our next post, we’ll look briefly at the National Labor Relations Act and employees’ rights under the law. 

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